Japanese Auteur Seijun Suzuki Dies at 93

Seijun Suzuki H 2012

The cult director who churned out yakuza gangster B-movies that were later hailed as classics influenced Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch.

Japanese director Seijun Suzuki died Feb. 13 at a Tokyo hospital after a battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which affects the lungs. He was 93. 

His death was announced by Nikkatsu, the studio that famously fired him in 1967 after 12 years and 40 films, for what is now seen as his masterpiece, Branded to Kill. The film was made in black and white as a punishment for his work on Tokyo Drifter — now also considered a classic — the year before.

Both films were intended by Nikkatsu to be straightforward, B-movie yakuza gangster flicks, but Suzuki’s experimental style, unconventional narrative flow and comedy touches were too much for the studio bosses.

Suzuki sued for unfair dismissal and found himself shunned by the industry and unable to direct for a decade.

“Seijun Suzuki made his directorial debut with Harbor Toast: Victory Is in Our Grasp in 1956 and since then he continued to influence fans and filmmakers all around the world with films such as Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill and Zigeunerweisen,” said Nikkatsu in a statement, adding, “We hereby express our deepest condolence and our profound gratitude and respect for his lifelong work.”

Suzuki went on to find work as an actor and television celebrity in Japan, before gaining international recognition later in life for his directing, with Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Wong Kar-wai and Takeshi Kitano all hailing his creative genius and influence.

Zigeunerweisen was screened at the Berlin film festival in 1980 after Suzuki had promoted it in Japan by taking an inflatable tent cinema around the country to allow audiences to see it. It was later voted the best film of the decade by film critics in Japan.

His final film was Princess Raccoon in 2005.